The Benefits of a Beehive

A few weeks ago we gave you the low-down on why we started beekeeping.  We knew nothing about beekeeping when we decided to become beekeepers.  In the months before our first hives arrived we found ourselves pouring over every book on the subject we could find.  We also attended a day long workshop for beginning beekeepers.  One of the big surprises about keeping bees was the amazing assortment of things we could harvest from the beehive besides honey.  We’ve done a brief overview; if you’d like to go more in depth, click on the heading of each title.

Honey

Benefits of the Beehive

Honey from our first year

 The taste of honey will differ depending on the time of year and what type of nectar the bees are bringing in. It’s a simple sugar (glucose and frutose) that contains enzymes and antioxidants.

Mike: Did you know honey is actually bee vomit?

Molly: Yeah, thanks for reminding me.  Technically it is but they have a special stomach just for honey making.   I have a spoonful every morning and cleanse my face with honey.  It’s a humectant and has antibacterial qualities. My skin has never been more balanced or healthy since I started using it a year ago.  Before I started using it I was having redness and dry skin.  I was spending more and more money on products that were organic and expensive but none of it helped.

Beeswax

 We don’t use any pesticides or medications in our hives.  So we have very high quality beeswax.  Lots of skincare products contain beeswax.  It’s inert when digested but when applied to the body it serves as a protectant.  It’s also a natural moisturizer.

Molly:  I make lip balm from it.  I put some on in the morning and unless I’m out in the wind it’s all I need.  I used to carry lip balm every where with me but don’t need to now.

Bee Venom

Molly's bee stung thumb

This was the first of several swollen thumbs for Molly

Voluntarily being stung may not be your first idea of beneficial but bee venom has been used to alleviate joint swelling and pain in arthritis patients for centuries.  People with MS and other autoimmune diseases have also found relief from bee venom.  Molly has joint pain in her hands.  Last summer when she was stung she was surprised to find that for about 6 weeks after the sting her joint pain and swelling went away.  The second time she got stung she became hypersensitive to the venom.  Her hand swelled up and itched until she was ready to go insane.

Mike: I’m sorry, no matter how many times you ask me, I’m not going to cut off your hand.

Molly: Pleeeeeeeaaaaasssssssseeeeeee!  For the love of God man do the deed!!!

Propolis

A  mixture of resins and other plant substances that the bees forage from the plants and flowers.   Propolis is a very potent anti-bacterial agent.  The bees use it to seal up small holes and keep the hive sanitary.  It’s really sticky and can be very difficult to scrape off the frames and hive.  Some people call it bee glue.  We’ve thought about harvesting it but it’s definitely a huge project to take on.

Pollen

Queen excluder on the hive entrance

The pollen entrance looks similar to the queen bee excluder pictured here. We don't want the queen to take off just after we've introduced her to the new hive so we put this on for a few days.

Pollen contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, co-enzymes and over 30% of it is protein.  The worker bees take pollen from the flower and carry it into the beehive on their hind legs.  It looks like they are wearing little yellow chaps.  They use it to feed the larvae.  To harvest it you must put a piece of plastic with slots on the entrance of the hive.  Under the entrance you place a tray.  When the bees go in the pollen pops off and drops into the tray. We did not try to harvest pollen this year because of the drought in our area.   The little ladies were having a tough enough time.  Pollen tastes kind of nasty but people that take it swear they have more energy.

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a very cool substance.  It’s responsible for creating queen bees.  All female larvae have the potential to be queens.  Nurse bees interfere with the destiny of most of them by limiting the royal-jelly diet — thereby turning them into female workers instead.  The lack of royal jelly creates sterile workers.  Queens become queens because the continued diet of royal jelly stimulates the correct hormone production to fully develop egg-producing organs.  Cool, huh!  Royal jelly is a milky-white cream, strongly acid, rich in protein, sugars, vitamins, RNA, DNA, and fatty acids.  The Chinese are the biggest consumers of royal jelly.  It’s used in Chinese medicine regularly. Neither one of us has any interest in harvesting jelly.  We don’t even know how to go about doing it without disturbing the hive cycle.  How do you milk a bee anyways?

Quality Control

The biggest advantage in having your own beehive is that you have some control over the quality of products from the hive.  The reason we say some is that bees will travel up to 3 miles to forage.  If your neighbor is spraying pesticides in their yard the bees will bring it back to the hive.  When we moved our hives to my parents we knew that one neighbor sprayed his field.  He had been a beekeeper years ago.  When he was told about the bees he choose to stop spraying!  You may not always have this outcome but educating your neighbors is worth the effort.

Here’s a story about New York beekeeper that got a huge surprise in her honeycombs: The Mystery of the Red Bees of Red Hook– It reminds us that bees will do what they want to do!

Some books we recommend:

The Barefoot Beekeeper: Low Cost, Low Impact, Natural Beekeeping for Everyone, byPJ Chandler

The Beekeepers Handbook, by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile

The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden, by Kim Flottum

Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, by Ross Conrad

 

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7 Comments

  1. Jeff | Sustainable Life Blog
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Very cool that you guys keep bees – that’s something that I’d like to try once I get a nice piece of land purchased!

    • Posted October 28, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      I’m so glad we took the jump- it’s been such a learning experience and lots of fun.

  2. Posted October 28, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    My mom swore by this stuff that she called “keet.”  I have no idea what the English word for it is, but I think it might be that bee glue stuff.  It’s like an olive green color and thick like a clay. They would mix it with vodka and drink when sick…or rub it on themselves.

    I’m assuming they used it for the antibacterial purposes.  Interesting article thank you. I just got put on the mailing list of the Berkshire Beekeeper’s association.  I so want to keep bees.

    • Posted October 28, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Yeah! Hooking up with your local beekeeping association a great first step to see if you really do want to become a beekeeper!

  3. Natalie
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Nice rundown on the bee products and your resource list is spot on.

    • Posted October 30, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! It’s always a balance between I want everyone to be beekeepers to trying to remember it does take work.

  4. Tom
    Posted July 17, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Roald Dahl wrote a fascinatingly dark and twisted story about a beekeeper who converted all his hives to produce royal jelly. Definitely worth reading.

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  1. […] and Molly’s House have a great article on the Benefits of a Beehive.  Particularly interesting is the bit on bee venom as a palliative for joint […]

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